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PNE at risk of folding without $8M provincial bailout, says fair and Vancouver mayor

Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition needs $8 million in urgent, emergency aid from the provincial government or is at risk of folding due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s was the message Friday from Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, along with the PNE’s executive and the union representing its workers.

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The annual summer fair’s revenue situation is “so dire that the PNE as we now know and love it could end, despite the City of Vancouver backstopping the PNE’s ever-growing line of credit,” Steward said.

“COVID is unprecedented and the PNE needs our help now. Otherwise, and to be frank, we risk losing it.”

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PNE president and CEO Shelly Frost said the fair is already $8 million in debt, and current projections have that figure climbing to $15 million by the end of the year.

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“As a non-profit, recovering from $15 million in debt would take a decade and a half,” Frost said. “This would forever change this organization and what we bring to B.C. would be altered.”

The PNE is owned by the city, but operates as an independent non-profit organization and has been excluded from all COVID-19 grants and funding from the provincial and federal governments, Frost said.

Click to play video: Struggling PNE calls on federal government to provide financial relief

Staff are in discussions over the federal wage subsidy program, she said, but nothing has been promised.

“We have not been been guaranteed money connected to accessing this program … which has been successfully accessed by thousands of organizations and all of our tourism peers across the country.”

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City of Vancouver pushes for funding in order to keep the PNE afloat in 2021

In a statement, B.C. Tourism Minister Melanie Mark said the province was still working on the details of its $100-million support program for anchor attractions in the tourism industry, and would have “more to say in the coming days.”

However, she said the city owns the fair and the province has already “provided the city with budgeting flexibility and significant financial support” that allowed it to deliver a surplus last year.

The PNE employs about 4,300 people, and according to executives, supports another 9,500 indirect jobs along with a $200-million economic impact on the region.

The event was cancelled last year, and replaced with an eight-day drive-thru parade and a few “taste of the PNE” food drive-thrus, along with a pared-down version of the Playland amusement park.

Playland had been scheduled to reopen with safety protocols on Saturday, but officials paused that until after the May long weekend amid public outcry over COVID concerns and amid strict restrictions on travel and the restaurant industry.

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